PETALING JAYA: It is flashback time for a former relief efforts coordinator, as organisations and aid workers get to Palu, Indonesia, to help victims of the Sulawesi earthquake.
Jerome Fernandez (pic), 72, was the project director for a post-tsunami recovery programme, carried out by Education International, an international teachers’ organisation.
He led a team to Acheh after the 2004 tsunami to help rebuild schools there.
“It was a complete madhouse at the time in Acheh,” he said, adding that the local authorities were too tied up with other problems to be bogged down with issues concerning aid workers then.
Fernandez added that there were many challenges faced but his team persevered.
His team, comprising volunteers from around the world and under the Education International banner, reached the devastated region in May 2005, five months after the tsunami hit.
Though five months seemed like a long time in terms of providing recovery aid, Fernandez said that this was planned as they were going into the zone to rebuild schools.
He advised those wanting to help to not be over-enthusiastic but to do their research and find out what sort of aid was needed.
“The first thing needed in any area for the first month at least is relief – food, water, medication, clothes. Then you come to the reconstruction of the area,” he added.
Logistics, he said, should also be considered as the transportation system would have been badly damaged or completely destroyed.
Fernandez said that NGOs would have to source for materials from the nearest town which could be hours away.
“Acheh had no shops left so we had to buy building materials from Medan. This had to be sent by lorry for another 14 hours to Acheh.”
He advised against providing more than what the victims originally had because they might not be able to maintain the upgraded facilities, like the whiteboards he provided to the schools.
He said that the locals preferred their blackboards because it costs more to buy whiteboard markers.
“People (aid workers) have to be wary of these things.”
Fernandez said those wanting to help should engage with local leaders and authorities to find out what was needed and to provide support for the aid efforts.
For example, he had to find out if villages were relocated after the tsunami to ensure that a school was still necessary in that area.
Talk with the other bodies providing aid as well to avoid overlaps, said Fernandez, giving an example of when his team and another NGO were supposed to build a school in the same area.
The problem was easily avoided because both parties were in communication with each other.
He also said that those wanting to help must build rapport with the locals to better understand the culture and needs.
Not only did they rebuild and equip the schools, Education International also trained teachers and provide trauma counselling to teachers and students in Acheh.